[News] Agent Orange Continues to Poison Vietnam

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Mon Jun 15 13:04:37 EDT 2009


June 15, 2009

An Ongoing War Crime

Agent Orange Continues to Poison Vietnam


From 1961 to 1971, the U.S. military sprayed 
Vietnam with Agent Orange, which contained large 
quantities of Dioxin, in order to defoliate the 
trees for military objectives. Dioxin is one of 
the most dangerous chemicals known to man. It has 
been recognized by the World Health Organization 
as a carcinogen (causes cancer) and by the 
American Academy of Medicine as a teratogen (causes birth defects).

Between 2.5 and 4.8 million people were exposed 
to Agent Orange. 1.4 billion hectares of land and 
forest - approximately 12 percent of the land area of Vietnam - were sprayed.

The Vietnamese who were exposed to the chemical 
have suffered from cancer, liver damage, 
pulmonary and heart diseases, defects to 
reproductive capacity, and skin and nervous 
disorders. Children and grandchildren of those 
exposed have severe physical deformities, mental 
and physical disabilities, diseases, and 
shortened life spans. The forests and jungles in 
large parts of southern Vietnam have been 
devastated and denuded. They may never grow back 
and if they do, it will take 50 to 200 years to 
regenerate. Animals that inhabited the forests 
and jungles have become extinct, disrupting the 
communities that depended on them. The rivers and 
underground water in some areas have also been 
contaminated. Erosion and desertification will 
change the environment, contributing to the 
warming of the planet and dislocation of crop and animal life.

The U.S. government and the chemical companies 
knew that Agent Orange, when produced rapidly at 
high temperatures, would contain large quantities 
of Dioxin. Nevertheless, the chemical companies 
continued to produce it in this manner. The U.S. 
government and the chemical companies also knew 
that the Bionetics Study, commissioned by the 
government in 1963, showed that even low levels 
of Dioxin produced significant deformities in 
unborn offspring of laboratory animals. But they 
suppressed that study and continued to spray 
Vietnam with Agent Orange. It wasn’t until the 
study was leaked in 1969 that the spraying of Agent Orange was discontinued.

U.S. soldiers who served in Vietnam have 
experienced similar illnesses. After they sued 
the chemical companies, including Dow and 
Monsanto, that manufactured and sold Agent Orange 
to the government, the case settled out of court 
for $180 million which gave few plaintiffs more 
than a few thousand dollars each. Later the U.S. 
veterans won a legislative victory for 
compensation for exposure to Agent Orange. They 
receive $1.52 billion per year in benefits.

But when the Vietnamese victims of Agent Orange 
sued the chemical companies in federal court, 
U.S. District Judge Jack Weinstein dismissed the 
lawsuit, concluding that Agent Orange did not 
constitute a poison weapon prohibited by the 
Hague Convention of 1907. Weinstein had 
reportedly told the chemical companies when they 
settled the U.S. veterans’ suit that their 
liability was over and he was making good on his 
promise. His dismissal was affirmed by the Second 
Circuit Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court 
refused to hear the case. The chemical companies 
admitted in their filing in the Supreme Court 
that the harm alleged by the victims was 
foreseeable although not intended. How can 
something that is foreseeable be unintended?

On May 15 and 16 of this year, the International 
Peoples’ Tribunal of Conscience in Support of the 
Vietnamese Victims of Agent Orange convened in 
Paris and heard testimony from 27 victims, 
witnesses and scientific experts. Seven people 
from three continents served as judges of the 
Tribunal, which was sponsored by the 
International Association of Democratic Lawyers (IADL).

Testimony given by the witnesses showed the following:

Mai Giang Vu, a member of the Army of South 
Vietnam, carried barrels of the chemicals on his 
back. His two sons could not walk or function 
normally, their limbs gradually “curled up” and 
they could only crawl. They died at the ages of 23 and 25.

Pham The Minh, whose parents also served in the 
South Vietnamese Army, showed the Tribunal his 
severely deformed, crooked, skinny legs; he has 
great difficulty walking, as well as digestive and pulmonary diseases.

To Nga Tran is a French Vietnamese who worked as 
a journalist during the spraying. Her daughter 
weighed 6.6 pounds at the age of three months. 
Her skin began shredding and she could not bear 
to have skin contact or simple demonstrations of 
love. She died at 17 months, weighing 6.6 pounds. 
Ms. To described a woman who gave birth to a 
“ball” with no human form. Many children are born 
without brains; others make inhuman sounds.

Rosemarie Hohn Mizo is the widow of George Mizo, 
who served in the U.S. Army in Vietnam in 1967. 
He slept on contaminated ground and consumed food 
and drink that were also contaminated. George 
refused to serve after he was wounded for the 
third time; he was court-martialed and sentenced 
to 2-1/2 years in prison and a dishonorable 
discharge. George helped found the Friendship 
Village where Vietnamese victims live in a 
supportive environment. He died from conditions 
related to his exposure to Agent Orange.

Georges Doussin, co-founder of the Friendship 
Village, visited a dormitory where he saw 50 
highly deformed “monsters,” who produced inhuman 
sounds. One man whose parent had been exposed to 
Agent Orange had four toes on each foot. Doussin 
said Agent Orange creates “total anarchy in evolution.”

Dr. Nguyen Thi Ngoc Phuong, from Tu Du Hospital 
in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), sees many children 
born without arms and/or legs, without heads or 
faces, and without a brain chamber. According to 
the World Health Organization, only 1 – 4 parts 
per trillion (PPT) of Dioxin in breast milk can 
cause severe deformities in fetuses and even 
death. But up to 1450 PPT are found in maternal milk in Vietnam.

Dr. Jeanne Stellman, who wrote the seminal 
article about Agent Orange in the magazine 
Nature, testified that “this is the largest 
unstudied environmental disaster in the world (except for natural disasters).”

Dr. Jean Grassman, from Brooklyn College at City 
University of New York, testified that Dioxin is 
a potent cellular disregulator which alters a 
variety of pathways to disrupt many systems. 
Children, she said, are very sensitive to Dioxin; 
the intrauterine or post natal exposure to Dioxin 
may result in altered immune, neurobehavioral, 
and hormonal functioning. Women pass their 
exposure to their children both in utero and 
through the excretion of Dioxin in breast milk.

Many ecosystems have been destroyed and Dioxin 
continues to poison Vietnam, especially in the several “hot spots.”

Chemist Dr. Pierre Vermeulin testified that it 
was estimated that $1 billion would be required 
to restore one hectare of land in Vietnam. The 
cost of caring for the victims, many of whom need 24-hour care, is enormous.

In 1973, President Richard Nixon promised $3.25 
billion in reconstruction aid to Vietnam “without 
any preconditions.” That aid was never granted.

There are only 11 Friendship Villages in Vietnam; 
1000 are needed to care for the child victims of Agent Orange.

Last week, the Bureau of the IADL, meeting in 
Hanoi, presented President Nguyen Minh Triet of 
the Socialist Republic of Vietnam with the final 
decision of the Tribunal. The judges found the 
U.S. government and the chemical companies guilty 
of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and 
ecocide during the illegal U.S. war of aggression 
in Vietnam. We recommended that the Agent Orange 
Commission be established in Vietnam to assess 
the damages suffered by the people and 
destruction of the environment, and that the U.S. 
government and the chemical companies provide 
compensation for the damage and destruction.

I told the President that it always struck me 
that even as U.S. bombs were dropping on the 
people of Vietnam, they always distinguished 
between the American government and the American 
people. The President responded, “We fought the 
forces of aggression but we always reserved our 
love for the people of America . . . because we knew they always supported us.”

An estimated 3 million Vietnamese people were 
killed in the war, which also claimed 58,000 
American lives. For many other Vietnamese and 
U.S. veterans and their families, the war continues to take its toll.

Several treaties the United States has ratified 
require an effective remedy for violations of 
human rights. It is time to make good on Nixon’s 
promise and remedy the terrible wrong the U.S. 
government perpetrated on the people of Vietnam. 
Congress must pass legislation to compensate the 
Vietnamese victims of Agent Orange as it did for 
the U.S. Vietnam veteran victims.

Our government must know that it cannot continue 
to use weapons that target and harm civilians. 
Indeed, the U.S. military is using depleted 
uranium in Iraq and Afghanistan, which will 
poison those countries for incalculable decades.

Marjorie Cohn, a professor at Thomas Jefferson 
School of Law and president of the National 
Lawyers Guild, served as a judge on the 
International Peoples’ Tribunal of Conscience in 
Support of the Vietnamese Victims of Agent 
Orange. She is a member of the Bureau of the 
International Association of Democratic Lawyers. 
Her latest book is 
of Disengagement.

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